The Dyscalculia Forum
April 16 2014 07:13 AM





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What Is Dyscalculia?

Here are some facts and answers to frequently asked questions. Feel free to print out this page, feel free to use it for any non-profit reason - but don't forget to mention the source. Check out "Spread The Word" if you are looking for material on dyscalculia.

The Basic Facts
Dyscalculia is a specific learning disability in mathematics. Dyscalculia is a word you use to describe when people have significant problems with numbers - but still have a normal or above normal IQ. It seems that no dyscalculic has problems with math alone, but also struggle with problems being able to learn to tell time, left/right orientation, rules in games and much more. See the list of symptoms. Also, there are more types of dyscalculia, and all types demand specific learning methods aimed at the specific problem.

Is Dyscalculia Real?
Dyscalculics say it is. Teachers say it is. WHO and DSM say it is. See the bottom of this page for the official listings of dyscalculia in the medical world.

How Common Is Dyscalculia?
According to UK studies done by Gross-Tsur, Manor and Shalev in 1996, 6.5% are dyscalculic. According to studies done by Lewis, Hitch and Walker in 1994, 1.3% are dyscalculic while 2.3% are dyscalculic AND dyslexic - that means that according to this study 3.6% of the World's population are dyscalculic.

That gives a total of between 3.6 and 6.5% of the World's population. And again: That means, according to these two studies, that between 216.000.000 (two hundred and sixteen million) and 390.000.000 (three hundred and ninety million) people are dyscalculic - if we say that there are 600.000.000.000 (six billion) people in the world. No international study has been done on how common it is.

What Is The Male/Female Prevalence?
Although dyslexia seems to have a take on the male population (30% female versus 70% male), when it comes to dyscalculia studies show that the representation is equal - 50% female, 50% male.

Are There Types Of Dyscalculia?
Yes. Just like dyslexia, there are many versions of dyscalculia. Researchers have yet to come to a final decision, and they are not working together, which means that at least over 50 types have been given a name. We have guts here at the forum, so we have decided to stick with 4 types that make sense according to the forum users. These names are from a study done by Geary in 2004. You can read about the 4 types in the forums - there are subforums for each type, where we try to figure out all we can about the types.

Semantic retrieval dyscalculia
Procedural dyscalculia
Visuospatial dyscalculia
Number fact dyscalculia

To pronounce it you say "dis-cal-cew-lee-ah". When a person has dyscalculia, you say that they are "dyscalculic" - "dis-cal-cew-leek".

The word dyscalculia comes from Greek and Latin and means "counting badly". The word "dys" comes from Greek and means "badly". "Calculie" comes from the Latin "calculare", which means "to count". The word "calculare" again comes from "calculus", which means "pebble" or one of the counters on an abacus. No one seems to know when the word "dyscalculia" to life - the earliest we have come across is this advertisement in The New York Times from May 1968. We do however know that researchers have used other words for what they found to be some sort of disability in maths (which they already found in the 1800s); arithmetic disability, arithmetic deficit, mathematical disability and so on. The media has been using words like digit dyslexia, number blindness and the obvious maths dyslexia.

Lots of variations of the word exist - Dyscalculi, discalculi, discalculia and so on. This seems to be spelling mistakes caused by general lack of knowledge about the disability, and the fact that no government has officially named the disability "dyscalculia", but instead goes by the WHO (specific disorder of arithmetical skills) and DSM (mathematics disorder) terms. Dyslexia is not officially named dyslexia either. In other words, dyslexia and dyscalculia are nicknames. It would be hard to say "specific disorder of arithmetical skills" every time you would mention this disability, wouldn't it?

"You Can Do It If You Want To!"
Probably followed by "and if you try hard enough". This is a typical remark from teachers and parents to motivate the student - and although it can be meant in the BEST way possible, it is not true when it comes to dyscalculic students. The thing a dyscalculic wants most in this world is to be able to understand those numbers. Dyscalculics need different learning methods, in every aspect of the assignment. Dyscalculics are able to learn how to calculate something one day, only to discover that the information has been forgotten the next day. In other words programs like Kumon, where repetition is a major part of the teaching methods seem to have no result for dyscalculic students - they forget. Through different learning methods aimed specifically at the student and his/her version of dyscalculia can have great results.

DISCLAIMER: Kumon helps a lot of non-dyscalculic children around the world, and it is possible that some dyscalculic students are learning by Kumon - we have just never heard of any dyscalculic who benifited from these learning methods. Please let us know if YOU did.

What Is Acalculia?
Acalculia is caused by serious brain damage. While it is possible to learn maths when you have dyscalculia, it seems impossible when acalculia is the problem - there simply is no understanding for numbers at all; not even the simple task of counting to ten. Acalculia is listed in WHO ICD 10 under R48.8.

I Can't Find Dyscalculia In WHO or DSM
That's because dyscalculia is a nickname. Dyslexia is also a nickname. Somehow these names have been made up, and it does seem a lot easier than to say the correct names. These are the official listings of dyscalculia in DSM-IV and WHO ICD-10;

DSM-IV 315.1
Mathematics Disorder

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, otherwise known as DSM, is the standard classification of mental disorders used by mental health professionals in the United States and some countries in the Western world. It is published by the American Psychiatric Association. This is the official listing of dyscalculia in the DSM-IV;

Students with a mathematics disorder have problems with their math skills. Their math skills are significantly below normal considering the studentís age, intelligence, and education.

As measured by a standardized test that is given individually, the person's mathematical ability is substantially less than you would expect considering age, intelligence and education. This deficiency materially impedes academic achievement or daily living. If there is also a sensory defect, the mathematics deficiency is worse than you would expect with it.

Associated Features:
Conduct disorder
Attention deficit disorder
Other Learning Disorders

Differential Diagnosis:
Some disorders have similar or even the same symptoms. The clinician, therefore, in his/her diagnostic attempt, has to differentiate against the following disorders which need to be ruled out to establish a precise diagnosis.

Low Self-Esteem
Social problems
Increased dropout rate at school

Mathematics disorder is usually brought to the attention of the childís parents when math instruction becomes a very important part of the classroom teaching. It is possible that some people have problems in math because of their genetic makeup. In contrast to some families whose members have great difficulty solving math problems, there are other families who tend to have members that consistently have a very high-level of math functioning.

Treatment for mathematics disorder includes individual tutoring, placement in special math classrooms with expert math teachers, and other educational aids that focus on math skills. Therefore, learning disorders are treated with specialized educational methods. In addition to special classroom instruction at school, students with learning disorders frequently benefit from individualized tutoring which focuses on their specific learning problem


WHO ICD 10 F81.2
Specific disorder of arithmetical skills

ICD - The International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems lists descriptions of know diseases and injuries, and health professionals all over the world use the manual to diagnose patients. It is published by WHO - The World Health Organization. This is the official listing of dyscalculia in ICD 10;

Involves a specific impairment in arithmetical skills that is not solely explicable on the basis of general mental retardation or of inadequate schooling. The deficit concerns mastery of basic computational skills of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division rather than of the more abstract mathematical skills involved in algebra, trigonometry, geometry, or calculus.

arithmetical disorder
Gerstmann's syndrome

acalculia NOS (R48.8)
arithmetical difficulties:
associated with a reading or spelling disorder (F81.3)
due to inadequate teaching (Z55.8) NOTE:
Having dyslexia does not exclude having dyscalculia automatically - WHO talks about mathematical difficulties that arise because of dyslexia, not dyscalculia, in people that are only dyslexic. Dyslexia can easily cause numbers to "float around". Only a diagnosis can exclude that mathematical problems come from dyslexia - and the other way around. 2.3% of the World's population are dyscalculic and dyslexic at the same time, according to Lewis, Hitch & Walker (1994).